Remember the days when someone would ask, “How are you?” and the response would be, “Fine thanks, and you?” We would hardly wait for the answer. What do we mean when we say it now? Are we offering support and encouragement? Are we asking for reassurance for ourselves?

Experiencing the holidays of Passover and Easter while we are suffering a plague brings our current challenges into high relief. Sounds biblical, doesn’t it? At the close of the Passover Seder it is proper to say, “L’ShanaHaba’ah B’Yerushalayim — Next year in Jerusalem.” Until 1947, it was the expression of an impossible dream. Today it is said as a prayer of protection for the nation that now exists.

What is our common prayer of protection for each other now, as communities around the world unite to fight the coronavirus? At this moment, we are called upon to be mindful of the aspects of our lives we have unselfconsciously taken for granted. We are challenged to consider the consequences of our actions and accept that some of our daily activities could be harmful to others. It’s nearly inconceivable! 

Heroes are revealed by circumstance, and every day we witness the enormous sacrifices of countless people putting themselves at risk for us. Grocery store workers, truck drivers, military personnel, mass transit workers, trash collectors, farm workers, firefighters, police, EMTs, elected representatives, public health officials, scientists, reporters, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, custodians, tech staff, and many others. These people are our lifeline. How can we thank them? How can we do our part? Could it be so maddeningly simple as staying home? Yes!

At times of crisis, humans are hard-wired to take action and this built-in response appears to conflict with the stay-at-home mandate. It does not feel heroic to stay home, and I believe this conflict is exacerbating the complex feelings experienced by many of us, as if being isolated weren’t enough. We feel we should do something, but I would argue that being one of the millions of gaps in the chain of connection through which the virus travels is one of the most valuable things we can do. That is how we, as a collective, will make a difference. We will contribute to the worldwide cure while reducing the risk — and the job burden — of people who, by choice or circumstance, are on the front lines.

We will never know whose life we may have saved through this personal and collective act of faith. Once the threat has been vanquished, there will be no commendations for those who stayed at home, but we will have something more lasting and truly religious. This joint effort — exerted in isolation — will have done what religions have sought to do for centuries: It will have brought us together. The word “religion” is derived from two root words, “re” and “ligio” meaning “to bind together.” We will have lived that experience. 

Perhaps when the pandemic ends we will find ourselves saying a new prayer of protection, “Next year in paradise,” and by paradise, I don’t mean heaven. I mean the world as it was created – an abundant place of natural balance, a place where we have uncovered our true identity.

Marc Clopton is executive director of The Actors Studio of Newburyport.

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